30 August 2013

I'm at DragonCon!

Come see me read! I'll be reading from "Something There Is" and probably also "The Dresden Ghost Orchestra." I'll have 18 minutes, which is longer than I've had before.

Saturday, 8/31, 4-6:30 pm in Vinings (Hyatt) [Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading]

I'm on from 5:40, though if anyone else doesn't use her full allotted time, I may be up earlier.

Also I'll be in costume, because why not.

28 August 2013

Anime you should watch: Ouran High School Host Club

Ouran High School Host Club manga by Bisco Hatori, anime directed by Takuya Igarashi/Bones

Haruhi Fujioka attends prestigious Ouran High School on a scholarship. On the first day of school, Haruhi stumbles upon the host club, a room where six attractive young men play host to their classmates. (It's like a hostess bar except with boys. And no alcohol.) Haruhi accidentally knocks over a very expensive vase and has to work in the club to pay it off.

Ouran High

This show is a lot better than it really ought to be. It's all the high school tropes smashed up together: the trouble-making trickster redhead twins, the gentle giant, the shota boy, the Serious One with the glasses, and the Class President. But the anime plays everything up for fun rather than taking itself seriously.

The Alice/Haruhi in Wonderland episode is brilliant. The rival Lobelia Academy's Takarazuka club makes for great comedy, too.

You can watch it here.

26 August 2013

Book review: Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille

Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille, by Steven Brust

Billy plays banjo in a folk band that plays a lot of Irish songs. They auditioned for an evening gig at Feng's and ended up staying there. Except where "there" is has a tendency to change. Feng's can move through space and time, and the requisite fuel is a nuclear blast, which just happens to follow them everywhere they go.

There's a complicated battle going on behind the scenes between Feng's (the actual Feng, for whom the restaurant is named) people and a mysterious cabal, and Billy and company get dragged into it. All isn't as it seems, of course.

I didn't like this as much as I liked the Jhereg books. A lot of the focus in here was on bands and music, which don't really interest me. I had trouble connecting with the characters, and, while dialogue moves a story on quickly, there wasn't much narration (or dialogue tags) to get a feel for them.

It was still interesting, and there was a lot of talk about food (unsurprisingly). But it didn't hit enough of my "cool" buttons for me to be enthusiastic about it.

If you like space adventure and folk music, it may hit your "cool" buttons.

23 August 2013

Meta: fannish shibboleths

When I read Making Book, it spurred a lot of thoughts about fandom, fannish culture, inclusion, and modes of exclusion, and how these relate to the “fake geek girl” phenomenon.

A major aspect of fannish culture is the reliance on in-jokes and cultural references: reciting lines from Monty Python, Star Wars, or the Princess Bride, or any number of geek books or media quotables. "It's only a flesh wound." "As you wish." "When 900 years you reach, look so good you will not." "You remind me of the babe." "Fear is the mind-killer." "Tea. Earl Grey. Hot." Et cetera.

These media references are relatively accessible to all. In some ways, these references act as shibboleths: you are one of us if you know this thing. The fan, hearing quotes from their favorite movie or book, may feel more comfortable, more at home. A new fan might not know where "As you wish" comes from, but they can ask (or google it), and then they can go watch Princess Bride.

It's part of human nature to want to belong, to fit in. For a lot of people, finding fandom was a revelation: There are more people who like these things. I have a complicated history with my relationship to being a geek, because I wasn't raised in a household where geekery was understood. I was given books, but they were random books Grandma found at the used book store and in any genre, from Gothic romance to crime. I missed out on a lot of the so-called geek kids' canon. I wrote a short series on this last year, so I won't go too far off on that tangent.

But finding fandom, meeting other people who liked weird, geeky things and had read Lord of the Rings a dozen times too, was a turning point in my life. I found people who understood me, if only on a certain level; I found people I could connect with over a mutual love of Legolas and Gimli.

And then I learned that some sections of fandom don't want to let other people in.

These fannish shibboleths can also be used a gatekeeping tool: to keep out the people who don't know the reference. This is the "fake geek" (usually "fake geek girl") phenomenon. Someone (usually a man) decided that unless you (usually a woman) can name every incarnation of the Green Lantern or every captain of the Enterprise or some other equally ridiculous piece of trivia, you're not a real geek, and you're only doing it for attention. A lot of other people, like Seanan McGuire and John Scalzi, have discussed this at length, so I won't rehash it here. My position on the matter is that you're a geek if you say you are.

Gatekeeping is a tool of exclusion, definitionally. Someone is an arbiter of who is allowed to belong to the group. Some exclusions can be passive, while others are active.

In Making Book, there are a lot of things referred to that aren't explained in the footnotes. A lot of the material wasn't for me as a reader, because I wasn't there for the referent. A lot of the essays were from fanzines, which were circulated among friend groups as a way to keep in touch with each other. (This was before the internet. A lot of the purpose of fanzines has been filled by blogs and livejournal.) I felt excluded from it. It wasn't her intent in writing it to exclude me-personally or anyone else in particular from the club, but that's how I felt when I read it. I wasn't part of the audience of the original fanzines, and that's fine! I certainly don't expect anyone I don't know to read my Dreamwidth journal and have it make sense. It's passive exclusion, and that's okay. Not everyone is going to be actively included in everything.

There's another sort of shibboleth: the shared experience and the in-jokes born from it. Every friend group, every family, has a few. There's comfort in the sense of belonging that comes from the knowing smile or shared laughter when someone shares a “Do you remember the time when...” story. It could be the time when your cousin spilled wine at your other cousin's wedding, or the time when you went to Disney World and saw Thumper. Or it could be a shared joke.

As I mentioned, I don't have a lot of the geek childhood reading canon. I'd never heard of a lot of these books until after college, sometimes years afterward. I don't share the experience of reading Ender's Game in seventh grade and finding it utterly transformative (I read it at 25 or so and found it overrated.) But I was picked on in school because I was smart (and overweight and also poor: the trifecta!), so I share that experience.

When it becomes a problem is when these passive exclusions are used to justify active exclusion. If you get married, your family starts teaching your new spouse the in-jokes and references to welcome them in. (Unless you don't have a good relationship with your family, which changes things.) If you make a new friend, you welcome them into the group by teaching them the references.

But in fandom, there are people who don't want to welcome new people in or see any changes. So they make up the “Fake geek girl” or decide that only certain methods of fannish expression are valid. I'll discuss this more in another post.

21 August 2013

Anime you should watch: Macross

Super Dimensional Fortress Macross et seq. Noburo Ishiguro, Shoji Kawamori, Ichiro Itano/Studio Nue/Tatsunoko Productions

People of a certain age may remember a show called Robotech that played on TV in the afternoons after school. Robotech was based (very loosely) on SDF Macross (and some other giant robot shows).

all the idol singers

The original series, SDF Macross, began in 1982. In 1999, a spaceship crashes on Earth. UN forces work to understand the technology. In 2009, they've figured it out, and they're about to launch the ship when aliens, the Zentradi--giant humanoids--, attack. The SDF launches, but it accidentally takes along a big chunk of the city around it, civilians and all. Roy Fokker is head of the Skull Squadron, which includes Hikaru Ichijou.

The civilians make the most of living in a giant spaceship (that also transforms), and they hold a pageant, where Lin Minmei (Lynn Minmay) sings. The Zentradi are horrified at Protoculture (music, kissing).

I'm not sure how best to summarize a franchise that's been running for thirty-one years. There are giant robots that transform into fighter jets (the original VF-1s are based on the F-14 Tomcat). There are aliens. There's pop music and love triangles. There are space battles. There's the Itano Circus.

Macross Plus is about a pair of test pilots who hate each other but love the same woman. The idol singer is a computer program named Sharon Apple.

In Macross, Zentradi ace pilot Myria Fallyna marries human ace pilot Max Jenius. They have many kids. They take command of Macross 7, a colonization fleet. She's the mayor, he's the ship's captain. Their youngest daughter Mylene plays bass in a rock band, Fire Bomber. The guitarist, Nekki Basara, prefers to sing at the enemy than fight them.

Macross Zero tells the story of how aliens got to Earth in the first place.

Macross Frontier tells the story of the Frontier, another colony fleet, which encounters the vajra, a hive-mind enemy of sorts. There are tons of references to SDF Macross, including episode titles. Ozma Lee, one of the main secondary characters, is a Fire Bomber fan, so the formations of his squadron (Skull Squadron, of course) are all named for Fire Bomber songs.

To properly enjoy the Macross franchise, you have to let go of seriousness. It's a show about pop music saving the world at the same time as it's a show about giant transforming robot-planes blowing up aliens.

Finding it to watch is another story. Because Harmony Gold bought the rights to original Macross in the US and then mashed it together with two other shows to make Robotech, and they claim the rights to all Macross everything. You can still find Do You Remember Love? and Macross Plus on Amazon, but any other DVDs with English subtitles are bootlegs and you shouldn't buy them. There are ways to get around these things, but you're on your own for that.

20 August 2013

No post today, sorry

So, I said there'd be a post today about some fannish meta stuff. It's not ready yet, and it may end up being two posts. I thought I'd be able to spend some time revising today, but I had to replace my phone instead. It decided it didn't want to read any SIM cards anymore. And it's about 45 days out of warranty. Lucky me!

19 August 2013

Book review: Making Book

Making Book, Teresa Nielsen Hayden

This is a collection of TNH's fannish writing, mostly from fanzines. From my standpoint, some of the essays are inaccessible, because they refer to things (mostly fannish in nature) I don't understand and don't have the context for.

The opening essay, "God and I," is the story of her excommunication from the Mormon Church. It's really interesting, and there were some aspects of Mormon theology discussed that I'd never really heard before. Like, apparently, it's easy to disprove half of the Book of Mormon with archaeological evidence.

The next few are some more personal reminiscences, musings on how much Rockefeller spent on a desk (three hundred years' wages for her at the time), growing up in the Cold War, and being a bureaucrat. The Disneyland story is also interesting.

Then it gets stuck in the land of "what is she talking about, and who are these people?" (I assume if you know who Claude Degler is, it's funny) with the exception of "The Big Z," in which she describes her severe narcolepsy and her struggle to get a diagnosis.

"Over Rough Terrain" is pieced together from scraps of personal correspondence that accumulated during her initial stage of narcolepsy. Parts of it are interesting, personal essays; parts are confusing fannish references (the Iguanacon rant? Huh?). The letter in which she describes aphasia for the word "mercenary" but not related things (like condottieri and soldier for pay) is interesting.

Then there's an essay for a con program book, which I assume makes sense if you know who Fred is. I don't get the joke, though.

"On Copyediting" is interesting. It grew out of Tor's copyediting manual. I learned some things, and some day they may be useful. The essay that follows is a review of American Psycho, the novel, which is a detailed critique of what is wrong with the book (basically everything). The final essay is "The Pastafazool Cycle," which discusses why "woo-woo" research on historical sources is bad. (To sum up: shoddy research published by a university press may make an unwitting young proto-scholar think it's good research.)

I'd say the book is worth buying for the first half dozen essays, plus "On Copyediting" and parts of "Over Rough Terrain." Reading it spawned some thoughts, which will be in tomorrow's blog post. (Since I forgot to post Friday, I'm making up for it.)

14 August 2013

Anime you should watch: Shinesman

Special Duty Combat Unit Shinesman, manga by Kaimu Tachibana; anime directed by Shinya Sadamitsu/Production I.G, 1996

Shinesman

This is the only anime I'll ever tell you to preferentially watch the dub. It's that funny. I've never watched the original, even though it stars some of my favorite voice actors.

Earth is under threat from invaders from Planet Voice, who intend to use the power of marketing and big business to take over the world. They fund and gain profit from a sentai (think Power Rangers) show called Greatman.

Right Trading Company has a sentai team of their own to stop the invasion: the Shinesmen. They're all office workers who have to put on their costume suits when a new threat comes up. Their colors are red, moss green, grey, sepia, and salmon pink. Each team member has a particular quirk (Moss Green is a ladies' man: his most famous line is "I have a date with Turkish twins!").

Shinesman is a parody of sentai shows, and I think it stands up well without any knowledge of the genre. (I'd never seen any sentai shows before, unless you count Voltron as a sentai show.)

The US DVD is out of print, and it's not on any legal streaming sites that I know of. (A google search turns up a couple sites of dubious legality and a couple YouTube rips.) It's worth the hour it will take to watch the two episodes.

(I don't have Netflix, so I can't check if it's in their catalog.)

12 August 2013

Book (series) review: Jhereg

Jhereg, Yendi, Teckla, Taltos, Phoenix, by Steven Brust

Vladimir Taltos is a human living among Dragaerans (sort of elves who live thousands of years and can do sorcery). His grandfather is a witch, and he taught Vlad how to do witchcraft, including how to get a familiar. (He gets a jhereg, a sort of dragon the size of a large bird). His father bought a title in the Jhereg clan, earning them citizenship and the right to do sorcery. He's also an assassin and mob boss.

The Dragaerans are divided into 17 clans, each named for a type of animal. Each clan rules the empire for a set period, in an order in accordance with the great cycle. At the time of these novels, it is the reign of a Reborn Phoenix (phoenix gets to go twice in a row, at the end and beginning).

The Jhereg are hated because they're mostly criminals and outcasts; Easterners (humans) are hated because they're inferior. Vlad gets scorn heaped on him for both reasons.

The first five books tell the story of how Vlad prevented a Dragon-Jhereg war, how he defended his territory in his first turf war (and met his wife), how he got sucked into defending revolutionaries, how he originally met his few Dragaeran friends and made it out of the Paths of the Dead, and how the revolution ended. They're not in internal chronological order; that would be Taltos, Yendi, Jhereg, Teckla, Phoenix.

It took me a little while to get into Jhereg, but the rest were rather page-turners. The world is elaborately built and very detailed without bogging down. Brust lovingly details the food Vlad cooks, which seems largely based on Hungarian cuisine. (Vlad eats palacsinta at one point. Which made me wish I'd eaten more of them while I was in Budapest several years ago, and we ate them 3 or 4 times that week. They were cheap and delicious.)

I enjoyed these books, even Teckla, which has some very angry reviews on Goodreads. If you like cloak and dagger, mafia assassins, and politics, you might like them, too.

09 August 2013

Friday notes

I've read the first five Vlad Taltos books, and I'm going to review them collectively on Monday. The following Monday I'll talk about Making Book and the tangential thoughts it gave me.

DragonCon is soon. I am not prepared.

Have a picture of a cat.
Luna perching on the counter

And another.
Mylene in the comforter

07 August 2013

Anime you should watch: Voices of a Distant Star

Voices of a Distant Star, written, animated, and directed by Makoto Shinkai, 2002.

Back in 2002, digital animation was slowly increasing in popularity in Japan. CG backgrounds or CG battleships and hand-drawn people were becoming more common and starting to look less god-awful.

Then one day, everyone started talking about this guy Shinkai, who was releasing a 30-minute OVA he'd done entirely on his Power Mac G4, with friends supplying the voices. It was a hit.

In 2046, aliens attack Earth, and Mikako becomes a pilot to defend the planet. She keeps in touch with her best friend/boyfriend Noboru via text messages from her phone. As she goes further into space, the messages take longer and longer to arrive. They try to stay connected over increasing distance--and age.

Voices of a Distant Star

As a story, it's somewhat psychological, exploring emotional distance through literal physical distance. As to the animation quality, the blending of CG with hand-drawn elements is much better than its contemporaries, and it's almost seamless. (For an example of bad early attempts at blending CG and hand-drawn animation, I give you Blue Sub No 6.)

ADV brought this out in the US, and ADV went belly-up in the great US-anime-company bubble burst of 2008. (Technically, they split into multiple branches like a hydra, since ... well, it's complicated.) Copies--even used--are running upwards of $60 on Amazon right now, so good luck if you want to own a copy.

US-based readers can watch it streaming on Crunchyroll.

05 August 2013

Book review: Soccernomics

Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the US, Japan, Australia, Turkey--and Even Iraq--are Destined to Become the Kings of the World's Most Popular Sport by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, 2009.

This book is basically Moneyball for soccer. Kuper is a sports writer, and Szymanski is a sport economist. Together, they write a clever, easy-to-read book that is packed full of statistical analyses, anecdotes, and typical English dry wit.

The introductory chapter focuses on why England loses, despite every English soccer fan firmly believing that they're fated to win everything all the time, because they invented the game.

The first part covers bad transfer decisions, racism (which they use a very clever cost effectiveness analysis to determine played a huge role up until about 1991 in England), whether people who take penalty kicks have a set preference (they don't), why the smaller towns like Manchester have more titles than any of the London clubs, and whether American football will overtake soccer in popularity.

The chapter on smaller towns includes this bit:
Life in Manchester then [1878] was neither fun nor healthy, [Jim White] writes. "In the middle of the nineteenth century the average life expectancy in Little Ireland, the notorious part of Manchester...was as low as seventeen." This was still the same brutal Manchester where a few decades before Karl Marx's pal Friedrich Engels had run his father's factory, the industrial city so awful it inspired communism.

Part two covers the fans: which country loves soccer the most, whether fans are one-club loyalists, whether fans commit suicide if their teams lose, and why hosting a World Cup is a horrible economic decision but it makes people happy.

Part three is about national economies: why poor countries aren't competitive, which small country overperforms the most and which big country underperforms the most, and how in the future, the peripheral countries (ie outside of Europe) will dominate.

The over/underperformance stat is based on a model Szymanski built using multiple regression, to determine how much various factors account for in a win. Home games, rich countries, population size, etc, are all factors included in the model. It's some really cool statistical stuff.

If you're a soccer fan, you should definitely read the book. Most of the club examples come from the English Premier League, which I only know through osmosis and Twitter, but they were still fairly understandable.

I have trouble, as a soccer fan, guessing whether people who aren't interested in the beautiful game will enjoy reading a book about soccer. If you enjoy statistical analyses, if you liked reading Nate Silver's fivethirtyeight.com blog, if you liked Moneyball, you'll probably get some enjoyment out of this.

02 August 2013

Friday miscellany

I've been going to pub quiz night at my local since it started back in June. My team has come in first or second place every week. There's a lot of random stuff, like "how tall is the Statue of Liberty?" and movies and 60s band trivia. The guy running it is from England, so he tries to make it hard. Mean.

Pacific Rim was awesome. It's giant robots smashing giant monsters. The dialogue won't win any awards, and there are a few questionable things (no, your nuclear-powered robot isn't analog if you're using all those fancy electronic things...), but it was big and fun and MAKO MORI and the little bulldog and STACKER PENTECOST.

Progress on the current novel continues apace, even if it's mostly glacial. I'm at the point where I mostly handwaved a lot in my outline, so I need to figure things out. Don't wanna.